While I should be cracking on with my exhibition pieces (only two months to go, now!!), I’ve fallen back on to the English cherry bookshelf I was working on a few weeks ago. Partly because I need to regain some space on top of my workbench; but also, because I need some time to reflect and consider a couple of points on my other pieces.
It all started with the drawer sides a couple of weeks ago. I bought back a couple of lumps of 2in ash, left over from my chair build at college. This wood was nice and dry and, because I’d formerly had to cut around most of the heartwood, it was a lot lighter than some ash you may come cross. This was perfect for my drawer sides though, as it would provide a strong contrast against the darker cherry pins of the drawer front! After breaking one bandsaw blade the other week and putting my saw out of action for a couple of days, I decided note to take any chances since time and fitted a brand new ¾in x 4tpi thin-kerf Supertuff blade from Tuff Saws in South Wales. I set everything up very carefully yet, I still found it hard to believe that I was deep-ripping something 140mm tall (almost 6in!)! It quite literally glided through this ash like the proverbial hot knife through butter! And yet, many people would tell you that only a 3tpi blade could handle a cut of this capacity…! 😉
You can’t really see it in the above photo but, the finish straight off the new blade wasn’t almost good enough to eat off of! To help you understand this a little better; I reckon you could ignore the step on planing away the saw marks and go straight to using a random orbit sander with 120g abrasive, from here! 8)
From then on [well, after a week stacked indoors…], the drawer went together at some pace. Before cutting any more wood, I decided to take my dovetail saw apart and to check it all over properly from the beginning… While I did find some improvement, previously, upon sharpening the teeth, a sight down the teeth revealed the blade was still crooked and it had an irritating tendency to pull to one side of marked a line. In Matthew’s guidelines, he details that one cause of “blade drift” on hand saws is caused by an uneven set on the teeth, which can be removed by carefully ‘stoning’ the offending side on an oil stone. This worked very well for me and I also managed to remove the crook in the blade by filing away a couple of raised edges around the screw holes drilled directly in to the steel – these weren’t there originally; they’re merely a consequence of where I drilled one of my holes slightly out of position and then proceeded to hammer (!) the brass screw all the way through – this then created the raised ‘bump’ of the blade’s steel that appeared to be upsetting the line of the saw.
More to the point, my dovetail saw is now working better than ever! Another excellent snippet of advice came from Matthew’s instructions, where it is suggested that no downward pressure is required to make a cut and that you should simply be able to grip the saw between thumb and index finger, comfortably, while sawing. This is also very true of my most recent findings. Though, if you do apply any force to increase the speed of cut, let me tell you; it is all too easy to shoot past your should lines!! 😳
This saw loves cutting down the grain!
I’m really glad I didn’t spend all that extra on a Pax saw though, I would still like to make another handle as I’ve since decided this one is too small for my hands…
While the glue was going off on that, I moved back on to the main cabinet and started getting the outer faces ready for finishing. Some of the grain on this cherry is very wild and tricky to work. Planing with an ordinary bench plane will almost certainly result in tearout in some places, which is why I bought my Veritas Scraper Plane out from hiding – purchased nearly two-years ago, I’ve since struggled to get to grips with this tool…
Don’t get me wrong; as with all Veritas products, it is very well made and, in the right situations, it is capable of leaving a near-flawless finish with which abrasive paper cannot compete (or so, other people have shown me…). It’s the tedious setting up, adjusting, trial-and-error and sharpening that gets to me. You also need a great deal of patience to use a tool like this, as it won’t remove material at the same rate as a conventional bench plane. Though, to be honest with you, my situation – where the worked surface was about 1.4m (nearly 5ft!) off the floor, it’s little wonder I was struggling, even with six cramps on the job.
That’s why I ended up doing the same job with one of these…
…Though, I will add that the scraper plane did a much better job on the drawer front, later, which was much easier to hold without racking or vibration!
A series of “keyhole slots” routed in to the back edges of the unit will later allow me to hang this piece off the wall, using exposed screw-heads sunk part-way in to plugged wall. If you haven’t tried this before, it really is dead simple and so effective. Router cutters are pretty cheap, too – click here. Traditionalists may prefer to see a French Cleat, with two lengths of timber bevelled at 45°… While I do also like that approach, I didn’t want to sacrifice any depth of my shelves.
A 'Keyhole' slot for hanging.
Somewhere down the line, I had already glued the book-matched pair of chestnut boards for the drawer base and, with a bit of flattening and the drawer construction out of the clamps, this was ready to be fitted. Three edges were rebated on the router table, to fit in corresponding grooves inside the drawer. Although not yet photographed, I’ve fitted a pair of ash drawer slips; grooved to take the base.
On a fairly wide drawer like this, without a central muntin, I like to wait until the base is fitted in place before planing the side down; for extra rigidity and to ensure that any racking doesn’t risk opening up the dovetail joints at the front. Another preference of mine (back at the marking out stage!) is to set my cutting gauge to slightly less than the thickness of the stock – this way, I should only have to plane long-grain with less of a risk of chipping or splintering any end-grain. Of course, some may prefer to set the joints out so that the end-grain remains proud… But then, if you still have to plane-out your machining marks from the drawer sides, does that also mean you risk altering the fit of the drawer in its opening? Will that note reveal a larger gap either side of the drawer, than what you will already have above and below it?
A little bit of sanding and these were all ready for a coat of acrylic sanding sealer. It feels ‘touch-dry’ in about ten-minutes yet, Chestnut recommend you wait another two-hours before sanding or applying any additional coats. This almost left me twiddling my thumbs, but for the fact that I would still need to turn a drawer pull (knob) at some point… I do envy people with workshops large enough not to have to keep shunting tools and machinery around. But, in this instance, I only have myself to blame for citing my 12in disc sander right on top of the bed of my lathe!! 😀
A couple of years back at one of the Yandles annual woodworking shows, I purchased a selection of wood turning blanks for this very project. At the time, I wasn’t sure of what would best complement this English cherry so, I ended up buying four different species – the really strange thing, though, is that I didn’t even own a lathe, at the time!! 😉
From the top: olive, black walnut, pear and goncalo alves.
My jack plane helped to reveal some of the true beauty and colours hidden beneath the coat of wax. I was originally thinking of walnut but, decided that contrast would be too stark for this piece, this time around. I wrote off goncalo alves as, while hand-planing the black, I began to experience this sickening sensation in the back of my throat. Olive, although beautiful in its own, was too close to the tones of the cherry, for my liking. So, steamed pear it was! And, below, you’ll see what I came up with…
The secret's out... I'm no wood turner!!
…Well, this was the basic shape before I reached for my favourite turning tool of them all – 60g abrasive paper!! 😀
I always do these… I was hoping to come up with something “inspired” by the dovetail-theme of my piece… (?) The shape is almost there yet, whenever I try to ‘create’ something on the lathe (avoiding the obvious round-forms), I always end up with a “trophy” like this! Well, this entire piece is an experimentation in itself – we’ll just have to wait and see how it all turns out! 🙂
Thanks for reading.